Alison Redford and Stephen Harper could learn much from Abraham Lincoln. For example, one practice Lincoln adopted was to select the very best minds for positions in his cabinet irrespective of party allegiance. He didn't only surround himself with people who agreed with him, but also those that didn't. In fact his cabinet included all the men who opposed him in his party’s primaries. Lincoln understood the words of 6th century Chinese General, Sun Tzu, regarding keeping ones friends close and enemies closer.
Additionally. Lincoln's lack of ego, often displayed in his trademark self-deprecating humor, (but rarely seen in modern politics), allowed him to seek advisors more brilliant than himself. He didn't need to be the smartest guy in the room, just the wisest. That range of opinion meant Lincoln had the most perspectives possible on every issue. This makes for better decision making, since it also meant he had to defend his decisions to some very intelligent, and not always cooperative, colleagues.
Contrast this with the system we have in Canada. Unless forced by being a coalition government, no party leader, provincial or federal, would ever choose a member of another party for his ruling cabinet. They want to "govern by consensus". They don't want differing ideas at the table. They might argue about what's right way too much. They might not agree when the leadership wants to do something that may look a little self-serving, like flying off to Europe for “networking”. It's much easier to vote for things for ourselves and our party when everyone in cabinet agrees on everything. Consensus becomes the goal, not good governance.. What if the press found out there was disagreement? We can't have that! Our party would be rent by dissent! Except they already have MP fractiousness in the British Parliament which is our model and it doesn’t appear to spell doom for their parties.
Decision making in a vacuum leads to costly, irresponsible and unpopular decisions. When everyone tells you what you want to hear, how can you possibly make well-informed decisions? All you ever experience is the echo of your own thoughts over and over.
One can only surmise this is the case for Premier Redford with regard to her jetting about the planet on our hard-earned dollars for reasons that, to the public, appear spurious. It seems no one in her inner circle has the political savvy or the courage to tell Redford she is creating PR nightmares for the entire party with amounts of money that do not really amount to much; $45,000 here, another $10,000 there; couch cushion currency in a budget the size of Alberta's. It's like Harper escaping the PR hit from an “accounting loss” of some two billion dollars (!) but is being dragged down by Mike Duffy's $90,000, that was certainly in no danger in ending up in Harper's pocket.
Here's the problem for Redford and Harper; indeed all the parties in power; these are the amounts people like you and I understand. The staggering losses to the submarine fiascos and the F35 ongoing money-pit are so large we just let the figures slide by somehow. These amounts of money only exist in a parallel universe none of us are conscious of being in. But ten grand, we can understand.
We know if we’re lucky enough to afford a winter getaway to Palm Beach, Florida, we can live pretty high on the hog for a whole week on $10,000, including flights, accommodations and a day or two at Disney World. Yet this is the amount we taxpayers were fleeced for a single flight, so Her Highness, (Her Heinous?) could fly home for Ralph Klein's memorial. Does no one tell her that the optics of expenditures like these are far more damaging than their dollar value would indicate? If she had more than simple Yes-Folk (the term 'Yes-Man is so sexist) around her, she would have been warned the anger and vitriol would stick like burnt cheese to pizza crust. On the National Post story about Redford claiming that the people of Alberta want to “move on”, among the armchair political pundits beneath the stories, not one person offered a word of agreement with her statement. The outrage was palpable. Those 120 commenters hadn’t moved on even if Redford had.
Committing so many political gaffes like these informs the public of some stark choices before them. These unforced errors tell those watching closely that, either the premier's staff is incompetent and fail to warn her of looming PR landmines, or she is getting sage advice but is ignoring it. Which one do you prefer to believe?
Furthermore, if she is ignoring the advice, is it because she thinks she knows better than anyone else and is therefore delusional, or that she doesn't give a flying fig about what the taxpayers think, which would make her more imperious and arrogant? Perhaps, given the disconnect between what Albertans think and what she believes we think, the answer is “all of the above”. You can almost hear her telepathically project such thoughts as, ‘The little people always bellyache. You can't listen to them or it will drive you crazy.’
Redford is going to have an uphill battle in this next election by all indications. For any chance to win, she better think about surrounding herself with people who exhibit the quality and adversarial tendencies as Lincoln’s advisors had. She certainly pays well enough to hire the best brains. Her Chief of Staff makes more than Barak Obama's does, but then, Obama has Republicans in his cabinet, too, not just Democrats. Redford will also have to actually listen to that high-priced help, in order to make better decisions. Otherwise, Albertans better get used to the idea of Premier Smith.